There are several ways in which Brexit, and more importantly the end of freedom of movement, will affect businesses using contingent staff in the UK. The most significant will be the impact on the availability of workers able to live and work in the UK without any administrative hurdles.
The UK officially left the European Union on Jan. 31, 2020, subject to a transition period during which the terms of the future relationship between the UK and the EU could be agreed. That transition period ends on Dec. 31, and with it, the right for UK and EU citizens to live and work freely across the UK and Europe.
EU citizens who were already living and working in the UK before Dec. 31 will have the right to apply to remain under the EU Settlement Scheme, providing they apply before June 30, 2021. However, any EU workers looking to take up work in the UK from 2021 will need a visa under the UK’s new immigration scheme. Irish citizens’ rights will be unaffected by the new arrangements, however; they will be able to continue to come to the UK to live and work as now.
If your contingent workforce is based entirely in the UK and comprises UK or EU citizens already working in the UK, then the immediate impact of Brexit will be limited. Likewise, if your contingent workforce is located in one or more EU member states and comprises UK citizen workers who are currently resident in those locations, similar rules will apply.
But as the reality of Brexit takes hold there is likely to be a more challenging war for talent, one not seen since 2004 before the EU expanded to include East European states (the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia), plus two Mediterranean countries (Malta and Cyprus). In June 2016, at the time of the Brexit referendum, net migration to the UK reached an all-time high of 333,000. By May 2020, the number of EU citizens coming to the UK for work-related reasons had decreased to the lowest level since 2004, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Immigration Rules From 2021
Here is a summary of rules going into effect as of Jan. 1, 2021.
Sponsorship. The minimum salary for a skilled worker visa in 2021 will be £25,600 and all visa applicants will need to be sponsored by a potential employer and obtain a minimum of 70 points under the UK’s new points-based scheme. Staffing employment businesses are not eligible to obtain a sponsor license for contingent workers they supply to clients. This means that some contingent workers in the future will need to be employed directly by you, subject to any restrictions you may have on headcount.
As a business wishing to employ contingent workers not based in the UK in the future, you will need to plan ahead for your staffing needs to ensure you have the correct sponsor license in place and sufficient allocation of Certificates of Sponsorship before you can make a firm offer to your chosen candidates.
The timing of this new scheme is not ideal as the coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on travel over the past year. This may also impact the attractiveness of taking up new employment in the UK for overseas workers.
Professional qualifications. Rules for the recognition of UK professional qualifications in the EU, and vice versa, will change after the end of the transition period. How they will change depends on the outcome of the final negotiations for the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
If you engage qualified professionals (e.g. doctors, veterinarians, lawyers) in either the UK or an EU country whose work depends on a qualification that was obtained in the other jurisdiction, the change to recognition rules post-Brexit may have an impact on their ability to continue working.
EEA (EU and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) or Swiss qualified professionals working in UK-regulated professions will need their qualifications recognized by the relevant UK regulator and vice versa.
Business travel. Employees needing to travel for business will be able to do so between the EU and UK on a visitor visa. Visitors will be able to travel for up to 90 days in any 180-day period to undertake a wide range of permitted activities including meetings with colleagues, clients and customers to gather information provided any work on the contract is undertaken outside the UK. Skill-sharing to collaborate on an internal project is also permitted for visitors coming to the UK office from a linked entity in the EU, as is attending training, conferences and seminars.
However, frequent travelers may find they are subject to more stringent checks and those with responsibility for managing staff in an EU country may need to obtain a visa rather than rely on a visitor status to be able to work.
All business travelers to the EU must have at least six months of validity left on their passport on the date of travel.
For further details of the impact of Brexit, please refer to SIA’s report “Brexit: What should employers/staffing firms be doing to prepare?”